One of my favorite times of the year is almost upon us...the NFL draft. In College, when ESPN first cranked up their draft coverage, NFL draft weekend became a holiday. I would sit squirreled away in my dorm room, keeping track of every pick, ordering in loads of food, welcoming others in to join the "drama" of the draft...and generally just reveling in the join that is the NFL. Last year? Last year I followed the draft on my car radio and cell phone, while I attended the birthday of one of my daughters friends. And guess what? The little guy's birthday hasn't changed...so I'll be in the same place for the draft. That's it, my daughter can't be friends with him anymore.
Besides watching the draft to see how your teams drafts, and where your favorite college players go...it's also a great time to take real stock of the franchises of the league. This holds true for all drafts...they are just a great source of info in terms of the health of a franchise. But the question remains, "How do you tell if you're cheering for a terrible Franchise?"
Before we get into the specific signs, let me clarify something. Any franchise can have a bad year. Injuries can hit, a key signing can go wrong, disaster can strike, or the breaks just don't seem to come. And on the flip side, even a bad franchise can have one decent season...where everything goes their way. We're not talking about the flukes. We're talking about sustained futility. If the futility has stretched to a full decade, you've got a Terrible Franchise on your hands. If your team has hit the 5 year mark, there is still time to change things, but it will take some major construction.
Below you'll find 10 signs of a terrible franchise. If your team has 7 in any given season, look out. If they maintain that over the course of a decade...well...don't know how to say this, but you might be a Lions fan. And be wary if you start to see any of these consistently appear on your team...these things are like a virus, they start to spread, and suddenly a once proud franchise can sink to the bottom...yeah, I'm talking to you Raiders fans. But enough explaining and build up....
Ignoring Blue Collar values/players
Any time a team values skill players or flash and completely disregards the grunts...well, they're in trouble. While the grunts aren't pretty, and can't win the game alone, they make life easier and possible for the stars. In football, this is forgetting about the O-Line, D-Line or Special teams. Not Pass Rushers, and Devin Hester types...we're talking about the DTs and the Flyers....the wedge breakers, and the Nose tackles...the run stuffers and the holders. The guys who only get in the news when they screw up. When I think of teams that have screwed this up...2 teams come to mind...the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Knicks. These teams consistently look for the flash, and not the grunt and you can see the results.
No Unified Philosophy
This is often seen when the Front office did not hire the Head Coach/Manager. But it can occur any time these 2 groups have a disconnect. It can also be seen between coaches, but it's harder to detect. Examples are a Head Coach wanting to have a power running game, while the front office keeps drafting/signing WRs. Or a Manager wanting to win with pitching and defense, and the front office signing can't field sluggers. The problem, is that the disconnect leads to a team on the field that might be good...but doesn't fit with the way the coach wants to play. Which leads to the team under-performing.
Square peg - Round Hole
Good teams find players that fit their systems, that would excel in their environments. Look at the Patriots, every year they find other teams cast offs, and these guys play great for them.
Bad teams find the "best available athlete" or "he's just got too much talent to pass up"...this can mean he either doesn't fit the scheme, or has million dollar talent but a 5 cent head...to paraphrase Bull Durham. Taking a flier on a talented player occasionally is great, when you're in a position of strength, these kinds of things can pay off huge. But always taking the risk, and always reaching...well, that just gets you a bunch of pieces that don't fit together.
Anytime the team exec gets more of the spotlight than anyone on the field....or constantly overrules on the field personel...you have an Ego-xecutive. Some examples? Oh, there are plenty. Daniel Snyder is one of the best examples. He's of the opinion that his check book will fix all problems, and that even though this is his first involvement in the sport, that he knows the game better than the people he's hired. Jerry Jones is one of the old guard in this club...since a certain helmet-haired coach left town, the Boys have been a mediocre team at best...because Jerry can't bear to be wrong. The Ego-xecutive can take any team down...when they believe they are above the law...well, then you're in trouble.
Overvaluing a Exec or Coach
Certain coaches and execs get free passes from owners...even though there is no evidence to support this free pass. They make moves and decisions that flush the organization down the toilet, but keep their job, while players and coaches take the blame. Names like Mchale, Millen, Isiah, and Martz come to mind when this concept is presented. These are guys that make indefensible moves, yet...they still have jobs. Gotta love finding that owner that is blind, deaf and dumb enough to let you have your way with them.
Angering the Fans
Yes, everything covered so far can be considered angering the fans, but some teams take this to a higher art form. They raise ticket prices, build more luxury boxes, kill off local TV deals, black out games, fire favorite radio/tv personalities, switch radio coverage to non-sports radio where the coverage gets worse, raise concession prices to astronomical levels, trade away fan favorites for 5 cents on the dollar...the list goes on and on.
The owners of teams like this forget that the fans are what makes them money, and that their obscene profits that they make, are a direct result of our loyalty to their team. They figure that for short term gain, they can exploit this loyalty...but the problem is, every move that cheeses off the fans, causes less fans to pay up for the right to be a fan...and so then another "cost cutting measure" needs to be taken...and that cheeses off more fans...and you can see where this goes. The best franchises embrace their fans, and make it easier for them to be loyal...and remember, winning cures all ails.
Scared of Change
When a team hits rock bottom, it has 2 choices...try something new, or maintain the status quo. Some teams...the Tigers are a great example...change up the way they are doing things. In the case of the Tigers, they said "we're going to accumulate lots of young pitching and commit to it"...they got to a World Series because of it.
On the flip side, there is a team like the Royals...they keep using the "small market" excuse...and trading away young talent before they hit the free agent market. They don't seem to have any real plan in terms of building from within, which is what it takes for a small market team to thrive. Instead they go out and sign Gil Meche...wow, great plan guys. Maintaining the status quo for the sake of maintaining it, is never a good thing. Good teams make bold moves, moves with purpose...bad teams...well, they just keep making the same dumb mistakes.
Overspending or Under-spending
In the free agent market of today's sports, it is hard to tell when someone is overspending...cause all the deals look big. But here's a good clue...when a team bids against itself in signing a player, that's overspending. For example, when the Rangers singed A-Rod...no one else was even close to the $250 mil and 10 years...they were bidding against themselves. That's overspending. The already mentioned Gil Meche signing is another example...no one else was going to offer Meche what the Royals did...not even close. This hurts a team in so many different ways...
But what about under-spending? Isn't showing fiscal responsibility a good thing? Yes it is, when done in the right instances. First off, if all the young talent on a team is leaving via the free agent market...the team is under-spending. If the team always has one of the lowest payrolls in the league...under-spending. If the team has massively overpaid 1 player, and it's fix to that is to sign a bunch of players at the league minimum...under-spending.
Now if a team chooses not to match an outragesly high salary offer to one of it's players, and then turns around and uses that money wisely to sign several good parts for a team...that's showing fiscal responsibility. (Good example of this is the Mariners, when A-Rod signed his huge deal).
Jamie Navarro Syndrome
For those that are asking "Who is Jamie Navarro"...that's sort of the point. Jamie Navarro was a mediocre pitcher on the Cubs...after a decent season with them he hit the free agent market. The White Sox needing pitching, went out and signed him to a fat contract. And he probably was less than mediocre for them. The Sox rational was 2 fold...they saw a pitcher that was coming off a good season (no matter it was his only one) and they saw a chance to injure a crosstown rival, and grab some press. It back fired.
Anytime a team uses the rational of "with this signing, we not only get a good player, but we hurt our rival"...watch out. Unless that player is their star, they most likely overpaid. And anytime you see a team signing a career mediocre player to a large contract because of one good season...yeah, just run for the hills. Luckily the Sox have managed to recover from this blunder...but it took some time.
Valuing FAs over Draft picks/Prospects
Look not further on this one than the Redskins. Perfect example of this flawed idea. Ever since Snyder took over the team, he has been signing free agents left and right, and giving up draft picks as compensation and trades. And what does he have? An overpriced, over the hill, under performing team. Awesome.
You build through the draft, and you supplement with Free agents. The core of a good team should be players that were developed by that franchise, young guys that have come up through the system. Then you fill in the holes, or plug a gap or 2 with a key free agent signing. There are lots of good examples of this out there...the Colts are one...Tigers another. If you constantly have to overhaul your lineup with free agents...you're doing something wrong.
So does your team qualify? Or are you just slightly worried about your team? Every sports fan should be wary of all these areas...keep an eye out...your team could start down the path of destruction at the most unlikely time. Some of the teams that fit the bill are already listed here...but there are others...lurking out there, getting ready to be terrible examples of the sporting world for the next decade. Can the loyal FanNation members find these lurking beasts?